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Gaels coach demands best of team, himself

It was late 2007 and then-Cal High football coach Tony Sanchez was searching for a nonleague opponent to play the following season.

The Bay Area school had just finished an 11-2 season that culminated with a 37-0 loss to national power De La Salle in the section finals.

Sanchez thought about the mighty Spartans and how they had won 151 straight games over 12 years, how their average margin of victory during that time was 38.3 points and that 43 of the wins were by shutout, how they had been named national champion five times during the massive streak, how that journey of dominance had been snapped in 2004 by Bellevue High of Washington.

Sanchez picked up the telephone and found his nonleague opponent for the following season: Bellevue.

“I asked myself what the best way was to get a team ready for almighty De La Salle,” Sanchez said. “What better opponent than the one that beat them back in ’04? So we went up and played Bellevue in Seahawk Stadium and lost by seven. Later that year, we played De La Salle and it was 14-14 with five minutes left before they scored.

“It showed you can play with anyone if you really commit to it. It’s no different at Bishop Gorman. We’re going to challenge our team every year with a mission statement of going out and playing the best possible games we can logistically.

“It’s not about the outcome. It’s about the process. It’s about how you play the game.”

Bishop Gorman played it well in spots and sloppy in others Friday night, but was good enough in the end to beat visiting Servite (Calif.) 31-28 before a rain-soaked, sold-out crowd and an ESPNU audience.

The Gaels were all about enough big plays to assure victory and enough turnovers and foolish penalties to nearly cost themselves one. It wasn’t the prettiest of wins, and yet no one wearing orange would argue with the result.

It was also the fifth time since Sanchez arrived at Gorman that the Gaels have met an opponent holding a top-10 ranking in at least one of far-too-many polls that annually grade the nation’s best prep teams.

This is how Gorman football has come to be judged, not for its success against other Nevada teams, but rather for how it fares against those considered among the country’s best.

Servite was the third and final such test this season for the Gaels, who went 2-1 in these marquee matchups. The other victory came against Chaparral (Ariz.) and the loss was to Armwood (Fla.), now ranked second nationally.

Consider: The Gaels went 26-2 and won a state title in the two seasons previous to Sanchez arriving, but the level of superiority it held over others wasn’t as vast as it is today. The margin of skill and scores were closer than some might recall.

But it’s different now. Sanchez has Gorman rolling in a way that four victories against local schools, following the loss to Armwood, came by a combined score of 244-13.

The Gaels have reached a point where, while a state championship still might be listed as the foremost goal each season, a national title shouldn’t be discounted as mere fantasy each fall.

It takes serious nonleague scheduling to have a chance, the kind Sanchez began embracing years before arriving here.

“We might be extremely talented, and I will never disagree with that,” he said. “We have great talent. But I would also have a tough time believing any team in town works harder than our kids.

“Games like this one (against Servite) are not make-or-break deals. There will be someone different to prepare for next week. But our kids have done a great job understanding the process of playing in games like this one. At the end of the day, it’s great high school football, and we’re proud to be carrying that Nevada flag.”

Gorman next plays at Pahrump, followed by a road game against Spring Valley and home games against Western and Bonanza. From there, the playoffs await and likely another state title.

Tickets won’t be as difficult to come by as they were Friday and ESPNU won’t be televising any of the action, but a top-10 finish nationally appears somewhat of a lock for the Gaels.

Bottom line: When you are the big fish in a pond of mostly improving programs and yet none appears your equal, success is judged in a different manner.

In such moments this season, the Gaels were a better team two out of three times.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday on “Monsters of the Midday,” Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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